University of Wisconsin–Madison

Preparing PowerPoint Presentations

Dr. Michelle Harris & Dr. Janet Batzli (Biocore)

Preparing PowerPoint Slides

Keep it simple.

  • Think of your PowerPoint slides as “billboards” conveying the major points of your presentation. Present only one to two major ideas per slide. You can provide clarification or transitions in your verbal presentation.
  • The least effective visuals are crowded, complex lists of numbers or words. They strain the eyes and attention of your audience. By the time you get to your point, the audience may no longer care what it is. Bulleted key ideas, simple graphs, charts or tables are much more effective because they quickly communicate your major ideas. You can include important details in your oral narrative.
  • If your methods are complicated, show a concrete illustration of it in a visual diagram, flow chart, concept map, or table rather than a lengthy list of procedures.


Design every slide for the back-row viewer.

  • Fill the slide with the statement/diagram/chart/graph. Use sharp bold lines and print clearly with characters large enough to be read by the people in the back row.
  • Choose colors of high contrast (black on white is much easier to read than red on black).
  • Use large font sizes to label all parts of graphs, charts and tables (e.g., column headings, units of measure, axes of graphs, etc.) so that the audience clearly understands what they are looking at.
  • Design using a consistent background and color scheme throughout presentation (a background of your own creation or pre-made template). This gives your presentation continuity, providing a visual thread or theme for your viewers. Avoid busy-looking backgrounds which distract your audience.


Use color, slide transitions, and animation for emphasis of your science, not ornament.

  • Thoughtfully planned use of color can emphasize relationships and organization throughout your presentation.
  • Use only simple slide transitions which do not distract the audience from the contents of your slide.
  • Use animation only if it helps to emphasize an important point you want to make. Flashing words or endless animation loops are distracting and draw audience away from your point.
  • In summary, use color, transitions, and animation that engage your audience rather than distract them.


A well-executed visual aid is simple, informative, and pleasant to view. Have a friend look over your slides before your presentation. If she/he can grasp the key points without extensive explanation from you, you have probably prepared effective visual aids.

Figure legends. There is usually no need for figure legends in a PowerPoint presentation. The words are usually too small to read. Instead, use a large, descriptive title for your figures and a well-displayed key for your different treatments.

Inserted pictures. If you grab a picture from an online article, scanned text figure, etc., you must cite the website and/or publisher appropriately below the picture.

Last presented slide. End your talk with a simple slide that summarizes your conclusions. Prepare a slide that lists your references, but don’t show it to your audience as part of your formal presentation. This reference list is important for your instructors in evaluating your presentation, but usually is not interesting to your audience. You may, however, be asked about your information sources immediately after your presentation, and so you could refer to your reference slide on such an “as-needed” basis.


Delivering Your Presentations

We list specific tips below, but perhaps our most important advice is to PRACTICE, PRACTICE, and PRACTICE before you present your research.

Introduction. Always introduce yourself and your collaborators, or let teammates introduce themselves.

Make the most of your figures. Verbally present figure axes—both the label and units. Explaining axes allows the presenter to slow down and define the variables of interest and also clarifies the data manipulations for the audience. Do not rush through slides showing your data; allow your audience time to process all of the information shown. Direct their attention to trends/differences that you used to make a decision about your hypothesis or research question.

Speak loudly. Project toward your audience instead of facing your slides! Many of us do not have booming orator voices. Therefore, we need to sound obnoxiously loud to ourselves at the front of the room in order to be heard in the back. The quickest way to lose your audience is by speaking too softly, looking only at the laptop computer on which your PPT slideshow is loaded, or by addressing your shoes.

Speak in a narrative style. If you need notes use them only as cues. Do not read your “speech.” Speak it from memory. You are the expert—you know your work better than anyone else!

Be selective about what you say in a short talk. Resist the temptation to explain every detail, or every thought you have about your experiment. Focus on your most important points to fill in important details that allow for clarification and transitions between slides.

Guide your audience attention. Put up a PowerPoint slide or point out a particular section of your poster only a moment before you want to refer to it. Give the audience time to read it or you read it to them. Remove the slide, use a black slide, or stand in front of your poster if you want the audience to focus all their attention on your words.

Your team should be prepared to answer the following questions.

  • What was the research question? Is the hypothesis testable given the research design?
  • Why was this question interesting to the group? Is the biological rationale an appropriate basis for the hypothesis?
  • Was the experimental design appropriate to the research question?
  • Are the figures and tables appropriate for the type of data? Are they easy to interpret, properly labeled with informative legends (for posters)?
  • Do your results support your hypothesis as stated? Did your methods allow you to test your hypothesis? Are the conclusions logical given the data? How do the results impact what is known about this phenomenon? Are the arguments easily followed? If your data do not support your hypothesis, what biological assumptions were likely inaccurate?
  • What new directions would the group like to take with this research?